ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz, along with state health officials, is set to take the campaign to crack down on vaping to the classroom this week, days after the state announced the death toll from vaping reached three.
Walz on Monday, Oct. 21, told reporters at the Capitol that he would visit three Minnesota schools this week to better understand the impact that vaping has on students and to help develop educational materials to help prevent use among minors.
Efforts to address the vaping crisis come after a survey of Minnesota students found that the number of 11th-grade students who reported that they vape jumped 54% between 2016 and 2019, with one in four 11th graders reporting that they vape. And the number of eighth grade students who reported vaping within the last days nearly doubled within that timeframe.
Seventy-eight Minnesotans have experienced severe lung disease stemming from vaping, including using vaping devices with illegal THC, the Minnesota Department of Health reports, and 28 other cases are under review. The department last week announced that two Minnesotans died of diseases related to vaping during the month of September, increasing the total vaping-related deaths in the state to three.
The state has monitored the situation and launched an investigation into the cause of the deaths and illnesses. State health and education officials have also worked to develop a public health campaign to combat vaping in schools.
Walz told reporters that he is putting together policy priorities to combat the use of vaping, especially among young people, which would include a renewed effort to hike the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 and additional regulations on e-cigarettes and other products related to vaping.
The governor said his approach would aim to "regulate, educate, keep it safe," because those who want to obtain the products likely could find ways around prohibitions.
“This stuff is still the Wild West," Walz said. “We need to speak and speak candidly and honestly with our students and hear from them what they think would be the best way to get out that information."
The three-day tour is set to include stops in Hopkins, St. Cloud and Faribault.
The input from students could help inform public health campaigns as well as possible policy proposals ahead of the 2020 legislative session. Lawmakers from both political parties and both chambers of the state's divided Legislature have said they hope to address vaping. Legislators are set to return to St. Paul on Feb. 11.